NL East Preview: Who will challenge the Nats?

NL East Preview: Who will challenge the Nats?
March 30, 2013, 3:00 pm
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It was quite the interesting offseason for teams in the N.L. East as major free agent splashes were made by some teams while another club traded nearly everyone they had. With all the movement that went on within the division this offseason, let's look at each of the Nationals' division foes to see what they have going as the season gets ready to start.

Atlanta Braves

2012 record: 94-68
2012 finish: Wild Card, 2nd in N.L. East
Key additions: Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Jordan Walden, Chris Johnson
Key departures: Chipper Jones, Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, David Ross

After losing in the one-game wild card playoff last season, the Braves overloaded much of their roster to get faster and younger. In come both of the Upton brothers to join All-Star Jason Heyward in what could be the best outfield in the majors. Both Uptons bring questions of consistency, but each are of the most talented at their position in the game. If they both have seasons that get even close to their potential, Atlanta’s lineup could be scary. They are balanced up and down with speed and power.

Atlanta’s bullpen will once again be among their strengths, not much has changed besides adding Jordan Walden. But their rotation holds a few wild cards. Kris Medlen will be counted on heavily to reproduce his 2012 season (10-1, 1.57 ERA) and Mike Minor will have to stay consistent. They also have Julio Teheran expected to be the fifth starter, he is super talented but has yet to find success at the major league level.

Philadelphia Phillies

2012 record: 81-81
2012 finish: Missed playoffs, 3rd in N.L. East
Key additions: Michael Young, Ben Revere, Mike Adams, John Lannan, Delmon Young
Key departures: Vance Worley, Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Brian Schneider

The Phillies are easily the hardest team to predict in this year’s N.L. East. Part of what they have going suggests they could be back as contenders, with some of their best players healthy and an infusion of players like Young and Lannan. But questions still remain across the board with Carlos Ruiz set to serve a suspension and Roy Halladay having such a terrible spring. Ruiz will be back at some point, but that rotation looks a lot different without Halladay. You’re then talking about Lannan as your third starter.

What could help Philadelphia overcome those problems is the potential emergence of their young outfielders. Ben Revere can get on base and steal bags, and Dominic Brown had as good a spring as anyone. They also look to have an improved bullpen with Adams on board. Either way, a lot of things will have to go right for the Phillies to get back into the playoffs and atop the N.L. East.

New York Mets

2012 record: 74-88
2012 finish: Missed playoffs, 4th in N.L. East
Key additions: John Buck, Shaun Marcum, Travis d’Arnaud, Marlon Byrd, Brandon Lyon, LaTroy Hawkins
Key departures: R.A. Dickey, Jason Bay, Jon Rauch, Andres Torres, Scott Hairston, Josh Thole

The Mets took a big blow to their 2013 chances with the loss of pitcher Johan Santana for the season this week. Losing him and not having Dickey will make their rotation look far less formidable. They don’t have the bats to overcome that deficiency either, which could make for a long year in New York. 

Realistically, the Mets will look to use this year to build towards 2014. They have very good young players in Zack Wheeler and d’Arnaud, but they both look one year away. Anything can happen in baseball, no one saw the Orioles and Athletics making the playoffs last season. But the Mets play in the game’s toughest division and that may make contention near impossible.

Miami Marlins

2012 record: 69-83
2012 finish: Missed playoffs, 4th in N.L. East
Key additions: Adeiny Hechevarria, Henderson Alvarez, Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Kevin Slowey, Jon Rauch
Key departures: Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, Heath Bell, Carlos Lee, John Buck, Carlos Zambrano

The Marlins shipped out so many players for prospects they now look like a Triple-A team. They still have Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison, plus Ricky Nolasco. But just about everyone else on the roster is a prospect or an over-the-hill veteran. Miami looks to be rebuilding around young players as they do every couple of years and this may take a while. They will be lucky to win 70 games this season.

The best-case scenario for the Marlins may simply be to have their young players showcase a talent that sends positive signals for 2014. Maybe they can play spoiler a few times and have a few rookie of the year candidates. Unfortunately for them, the N.L. East will be a cruel place for bad teams in 2013. A worst-to-first Cinderella story is very unlikely to happen.